Rasmussen's encephalitis (RE), a childhood disease characterized by epileptic seizures associated with progressive destruction of a single cerebral hemisphere, is an autoimmune disease in which one of the autoantigens is a glutamate receptor, GluR3. The improvement of some affected children following plasma exchange that removed circulating GluR3 antibodies (anti-GluR3) suggested that anti-GluR3 gained access to the central nervous system where it exerted deleterious effects. Here, we demonstrate that a subset of rabbits immunized with a GluR3 fusion protein develops a neurological disorder mimicking RE. Anti-GluR3 IgG isolated from serum of both ill and healthy GluR3-immunized animals promoted death of cultured cortical cells by a complement-dependent mechanism. IgG immunoreactivity decorated neurons and their processes in neocortex and hippocampus in ill but not in healthy rabbits. Moreover, both IgG and complement membrane attack complex (MAC) immunoreactivity was evident on neurons and their processes in the cortex of a subset of patients with RE. We suggest that access of IgG to epitopes in the central nervous system triggers complement-mediated neuronal damage and contributes to the pathogenesis of both this animal model and RE.